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The (Foolproof) Jewel Orchid

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Had enough of this relentless winter? Had enough of being punched in the face with snowfall after snowfall, of shoveling, of white-knuckle driving, of wallowing helplessly in your own driveway, of having your kids hanging around like dirty shirts because their school has been canceled 17 days and counting? Yeah, me too. On days like these, my flowers save me. I took these photos on one of the four sunny days we've had in February.
Ludisia discolor, the jewel orchid, is becoming a favorite of mine. I have to admit that, being a snob about flowers (they must be large, colorful and fragrant to catch my attention), I resisted its modest floral charms until my plantfreak friend Jason brought me one three years ago. I had to admit its foliage was stunning--it's named for the jewel-like texture of its iridescent leaves. They're reminiscent of some flower petals which, upon close inspection, reveal sparkling gems or prisms that catch the light. The jewel orchid is a terrestrial, native to southern China, Myanmar to Indonesia. Many people pot it in regular potting soil with perlite added, or use an African violet mix. Mine is thriving in a bark medium made for orchids.

I wasn't terribly impressed with the short bloom spikes the plant threw out on its first try. But it was just a baby then. This year's bloom, whoa. Thick, fleshy pink asparagus-like stalks started reaching for the sky, and I reached for a sturdy stake to keep the plant from toppling over. Up and up they grew, elongating and throwing blossom after blossom. No, sadly, they're not fragrant, but they're charming nonetheless.

almost there...There! Whoo-eee! The whole affair in full bloom now stands 28" high, with 17" flower stalks! I do believe it likes my bedroom.

Better yet, the plant has thrown out five shoots from its rhizome, and I understand that these can be cut off, rooted in water or potting medium, and given to friends. Nothing pleases a gardener like gifting a friend with an offshoot of a treasured plant. Plant propagation: my only vice.

Luscious, that's all it is, just luscious, the leaves with garnet veins and a ravishing red reverse, and it couldn't be easier to grow.
Here it is in situ, in a south-facing window in the orchid bedroom. When the sun glares in too harshly (rare for winter in the mid-Ohio valley), I drop the Venetian blinds and keep them at a horizontal slant, to let bars of sun pass over my plants. Humidity trays are kept full beneath the collection, and I mist the plants a couple of times a day with filtered water. Doesn't leave spots on the leaves. Makes them look squeaky clean and dust-free.

If you're timid about orchids but you can grow African violets, do try the jewel orchid. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. And then it's on to Phalaenopsis! Laeliocattleyas! Dendrobiums! Brassaevolas! Oh! Oh! Oh!

For more encouragement, see this excellent article, "A Foolproof Orchid," on the American Orchid Society's web site.


Heh. My dad used to have a huge one of these that, like yours, would throw out loads of flower spikes. I'll always remember it because one day inspecting his pride and joy in the living room he discovered a series of small semi-circles taken out of the leaves and shortly thereafter discovered an escapee from my macleays spectre stick insect breeding cage tucking in!

Maybe a potted plant is what I need to break out of the winter blahs... all this snow! I live in the Dayton area (Yellow Springs) and I can't believe how much snow is on the ground. Your orchids are just gorgeous, a nice reminder that spring will be here eventually.

Love those garnet veined leaves.
I want fabric like that.

"garnet veins and a ravishing red reverse"..what a beautiful description!The plant is lovely too.

Seriously? Your only vice?

I rely on some of my more prolific plant-propagating friends, but it adds a layer of tension if they start to crap out. Not only am I a murderer, but I'm rude.

Not entirely "foolproof" ... I managed to kill mine. Sigh .... I guess I'm just not a good mother although my dogs thrive!

Posted by Bette D March 1, 2010 at 11:35 AM

What a lovely collection. I love jewel orchids for the leaves, the blooms are a bonus.

I've never really looked at a jewel orchid before but now I'm gonna get me one!! Reading your post on this beauty was a lift to my day..color!!! We all need some color..real color not the absence of it! Had enough white..wind and winter!! Thanks!!

That's a mighty fine looking jewel orchid ya got there JZ! I had a feeling that it would eventually work its magic on you some day! :)

You are tempting me into trying orchids! Now I have to decide what to try first. YOU, dear lady, must be getting kickbacks from the orchid people.

Just lovely, Julie. I was actually looking at the background of the pictures too - you have so many orchids! Wow - I am very inadequate. I have 2 little orchids and they haven't rebloomed since the day I got them. I CAN get african violets to rebloom, but that's about it.

Thank you for the little taste of spring in your garden room!

My daughter and I held an orchid in our hands last week. We both agreed that to have an orchid would be a death sentence for the beauty, so we put them back on the shelf.

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